Sapphire Energy Gets $104.5M to Build Biofuels Refinery, Larry Smarr Says Sensors Vital to Energy Conservation, MP3.com’s Founder Says Online Strategy Has Changed, & More San Diego BizTech News

12/7/09Follow @bvbigelow

Cyber Monday’s online shopping trends provided much of the electronic grist for our Xconomy news mill last week. Get your news here while it’s hot.

—The Department of Energy awarded San Diego’s Sapphire Energy a $50 million grant and the Department of Agriculture provided the company with $54.5 million in federal loan guarantees for construction of an algae biofuel refinery in Southern New Mexico. Sapphire plans to begin construction of the pre-commercial demonstration plant late next year in Columbus, near Las Cruces.

Internet guru Larry Smarr is encouraging the widespread use of sensors to monitor energy use in buildings. Smarr, director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, told a UCSD forum on green innovation last week, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

—Stylefeeder is an online shopping website with a proprietary recommendation engine that makes personalized product suggestions for users. Because Stylefeeder’s customized learning program is based on shoppers’ preferences and actual purchases, the Cambridge, MA, company is gradually assembling insights into online shopping preferences in different parts of the country. For example Stylefeeder found San Diego shoppers are losing their fervor for Hurley, Volcom, and Kenneth Cole. But they’re excited about Puma, Oakley, and Charlotte Russe.

Michael Robertson, who sold San Diego-based Gizmo5 to Google a few weeks ago, says the online world has changed since he founded MP3.com and sold it eight years ago to Vivendi for $372 million. “If you’re one of the big guys like eBay, Facebook, or MP3.com, you get that network effect going,” Robertson told me. “But if you’re an also-ran, you have to be more strategic. If you’re not that leader, it’s a totally different business dynamic. You have to source the business opportunities, chase the partners, and work for every deal.”

—Noah Auerhahn and Jeff Nobbs moved to San Diego last year to re-launch an online shopping portal called Extrabux, based on the business plan that won a campus-wide $25,000 business plan competition at USC. Extrabux got a boost from a segment about Cyber Monday online shopping tricks on the ABC-TV news show Good Morning America that prompted 83,000 hits in one day, including 63,000 unique visitors.

—Based on information provided by aspiring technology entrepreneurs and company founders who enroll in the Founder Institute’s business incubator and mentoring program, Seattle ranks highest and San Diego lowest in likelihood for entrepreneurial success. The Seattle program begins today. The San Diego program, which began in November, has enrolled 22 students and has scheduled its graduation for Feb. 23.

Connect, the San Diego non-profit group that supports technology and entrepreneurship, gave its 2009 William W. Otterson Award to the Predator, the unmanned surveillance aircraft developed for the military by San Diego-based General Atomics. The Otterson award is based on technologies or product developed in San Diego that have demonstrated a significan positive impact on society or on quality of life.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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